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Cultiaf Finance Fish Processors To Up Product Standards

Malawian fish traders have all alone been using traditional methods of processing which include open rack drying and smoking. Although fish is able to dry up, it is more susceptible to contaminants and vulnerable to microbial activities says Daveson Chatuluka Paulosi, based at Malembo fish landing site in Nankumba area in Mangochi.

Today, there are now more opportunities with the coming of improved fish processing methods explains Paulosi thanks to Nsomba M’chuma programme. Previously considered a male dominated area fish processing opportunity are now extended to women to level the playing field as part of gender and financial empowerment.

Malawian fish traders have all alone been using traditional methods of processing which include open rack drying and smoking. Although fish is able to dry up, it is more susceptible to contaminants and vulnerable to microbial activities says Daveson Chatuluka Paulosi, based at Malembo fish landing site in Nankumba area in Mangochi.

Fish is the major source of animal protein (70 percent) for Malawi’s 18 million population, and it is also a good source of calcium, vitamin, iron and zinc. However, the contribution of fish to the country’s economy, food and nutrition security is at risk as a result of high post-harvest losses, estimated at 34 percent.

Significant losses occur when fish is sun-dried in the open air after capture, which exposes the catch to flies, dust and other contaminants, leading to spoilage. Low temperatures and humid conditions during the rainy season also impact the fish-drying process and consequently the quality of the dried fish.

In an effort to reduce post-harvest losses and improve quality and prices, Cultivate Africa Future (CultiAF) is empowering women to capitalize on improved methods of processing fish. The program, co-funded by the Canadian International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), is promoting adoption of technologies such as solar tent dryers and improved smoking kilns through improved access to finance to support women, who undertake most of the processing activities.

Financing to fish processors

Financing the adoption of the technologies is achieved through FDH Bank Limited. “After thorough consultations, it was agreed to offer short-term loans to fish processors of both genders,” explained Joshua Masangano, FDH Bank’s Agri-business Manager. “The loans are meant to finance the acquisition of solar tent dryers and improved smoking kilns for fish processors and traders.” As part of the gender empowerment approach, women fish processors were given a preferential interest rate of 9.1% above the base lending rate of 12 %.

Three trainings were conducted to sensitize applicants on the bank’s accounts and loan products, and on issues related to business planning. Initially, 60 fish processors (30 women 30 men) applied for the loan. However, after a rigorous screening process only 18 applicants (10 women and 8 men) were approved based on their monthly turnovers.

According to Masangano, the proposed repayment tenor for the loan was agreed at 12 months, payable in equal monthly instalments. Upon request from a customer the payments can be aligned to coincide with peak months only, but full repayment has to be made within a period of 12 months. So far MK 19.6 million has been distributed to six fish processors (three women and three men) who have constructed six solar dryers, five smoking kilns and two warehouses.

Financially empowered women beneficiaries

The women beneficiaries appreciate the importance of the financing. In Mangochi district, 28-year-old Atusaye Msiska, a beneficiary based at Madzedze fish landing site on the eastern arm of Lake Malawi, has successfully accessed a MK 2.9 million financing agreement from FDH. The financing, provided in the form of materials, has enabled Msiska to construct a solar tent dryer, fish smoking kiln and a fish processing shelter. The processing shelter is a secure open house, that is roofed, enabling Msiska to fry or boil her purchased fish when it is raining, and keep flies and contaminants away from the fish which improves its quality and shelf-life. “When the business environment is fine and demand high, I make a profit margin amounting to MK 50,000 per week. With this profit, I take care of my child and acquire some household essentials,” says Msiska who is also a single mother. “The balance I use to pay my tuition fees for my diploma course in public health at a private college. I pay for my bills that include accommodation, food and all miscellaneous expenses like books and learning materials.”

Another beneficiary is Adija Mtenje, based at Malembo, Traditional Authority Nankumba. She has been in the fish processing business for almost 20 years. Mtenje also received a MK 2.9 million FDH loan. The bank paid for the materials in order for her to construct a solar tent dryer and smoking kiln.

She is yet to complete the solar dryer and smoking kiln but says the improved fish processing methods are a game changer to the lives of fish processors. She cites women in particular as major beneficiaries as they will remain competitive in the fish trade. Mtenje said that this will make it possible for them to penetrate the up-market chain stores with quality products.

“The solar tent dryers are very good structures when it comes to improved fish processing. These are state-of-the-art fish processing and storage facilities that will make handling of fish more hygienic,” emphasized Mtenje. “There are no flies, no pets, and not even dust that affect fish when it is being dried. The quality of fish that comes out of the solar tent dryer is superb.

Our next move is to ensure we have the right capital to process large quantities of fish such as Usipa, Utaka and Jemison on a large scale. We also need more capital to be able to package our processed fish, label it and take it to supermarkets for sale,” she added.

According to Mtenje, there is more value added through better packaging and labelling, especially for the chain stores.

Gender empowerment

The project is also implementing other women empowerment initiatives. Boniface Nankweya, a research analyst at WorldFish, an international center for agriculture research, explained that women are the main actors in processing small fish species such as Usipa and Utaka.

The project is applying the Gender Transfromation Approach (GTA) to address causes and consequences of gender inequalities, and ensure equitable allocation of resources to both women and men to help enable change at community and household levels.

Nankweya added that applying GTA will result in increased adoption of improved technologies, engagement of women, youth and men in lucrative fish businesses, and enhanced supply of health and safe fish products.

This will eventually increase incomes and employment, improve household food and nutrition security, and economically empower more women and youth.

Frida Kadzandira, a lecturer in the Department of Sociology, University of Malawi, Chancellor College, who was part of the monitoring team, elaborated on the importance of selecting and training gender champions within the community. The idea was to train their colleagues in their respective communities on various issues of gender. Once the communities understand gender better, they will be able to deal with some of the challenges better as well.

“GTA promotes critical awareness among men and women of gender roles and norms, promotes the position of women, challenges the distribution of resources and allocation of duties, and addresses the power relations between men and others in the communities,” Kadzandira explained. “Once the communities understand gender better, they will be able to deal with some of the challenges better as well.”

Ultimately, the project expects that women will become increasingly involved in activities that were deemed pro-men and vice versa. In the fish value chain, women are mostly involved in fish processing but the project would like to see increased women participation in all the stages in the fish value chain.

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Charles Mkoka
Charles Mkoka is one of AEJ News Editorial Production Crew

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